JACKSONVILLE – Doug Pederson likes his quarterback – and what's around him, too.
The Jaguars' head coach met with the media Thursday along with General Manager Trent Baalke to discuss the team’s initial 2023 53-player roster – and he not unexpectedly praised Trevor Lawrence as the quarterback enters his third NFL season.
The difference in Lawrence now compared to last season?
"Night and day," Pederson said.
Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, improved dramatically in his second season – his first working in Pederson's offensive scheme. Pederson said the improvement has continued throughout the offseason, 2023 Training Camp and the preseason in terms of confidence, timing and accuracy.
"I've seen that growth, that maturity, in a young player," Pederson said. "He's so much further along, he's understanding the game, how to play the position the right way. [Quarterbacks coach] Mike McCoy does a great job of coaching that into him and all the quarterbacks. To me, it's just that confidence, it's that leadership ability that he possesses and that's encouraging."
Lawrence, after throwing 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as a rookie, threw 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2022. He threw 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in the last nine games as the Jaguars surged to their first AFC South title since 2017.
If that surge has caused many to project Lawrence as one of the NFL's rising quarterbacks, Pederson said the projections are deserved.
"He's continuing to grow, continuing to get better and he's also one of the quarterbacks that's been in the conversation for one of the top in the AFC, as he should be," Pederson said. "But he knows he's got to put in the hard work, and he's got a great group of guys around him to help support that."
Among this around Lawrence:
- An offensive line that the team considered a deep strength entering '23 training camp before sustaining multiple injuries and medical issues throughout the last month. Swing tackle Josh Wells (groin) was placed on injured reserve, with rookie guard Cooper Hodges out at least the first four games of the season with a patellar injury sustained in Preseason Week 1.
- Left guard Ben Bartch returned from the Physically Unable to Perform list after being out since Week 5 last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Swing guard Tyler Shatler returned to practice this week and is 100 percent after an atrial fibrillation in early August near the start of training camp.
"We feel really good about where our offensive line is health-wise going into the regular season," Pederson said. "No concerns there, we just keep grinding away."
Pederson had similar praise for a group of offensive skill players that in the offseason added wide receiver Calvin Ridley, tight end Brenton Strange and running backs Tank Bigsby and D'Ernest Johnson to wide receivers Zay Jones and Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram and running back Travis Etienne Jr.
"When you look at that group, the positions are young, they're energetic, there's great leaders in there and there's great veterans in those rooms," Pederson said. "If you're looking outside the building, you don't want to look too far."
- Baalke on Thursday discussed tight end Gerrit Prince signing with the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad this week. Prince, who spent the 2022 season on the Jaguars' practice squad after signing as a collegiate free agent following the '22 draft, was among the players waived by the Jaguars Tuesday. Baalke said the Jaguars considered keeping four tight ends on the active roster but decided to keep three – Engram, Strange and Luke Farrell. "Gerrit's a good, young player," Baalke said. "He's going to go on and do some big things in this league. It was just a numbers game. It was keep four running backs, keep seven wide receivers, or keep four tight ends. We went back and forth and just decided that was the best course of action knowing there was a great chance that if he wasn't here, he'd be somewhere else." Baalke said the Jaguars "absolutely" wanted Prince on their practice squad. "I think they look at opportunity, too, and what they're dealing with ahead of them," Baalke said. "That's a pretty good room (the Jaguars' tight ends) as coach mentioned earlier. I think they're all looking for opportunities on how they can get on the field and be part of the 53. If it's their choice and they'd rather do that than be on a practice squad, I think that's what Gerrit looked at and we respected that."
- Pederson on continuity throughout the team from 2022: "I just think the guys have been around each other now for a full season. They've been around us as a staff, they know how we operate. I just think that's where the confidence comes from and the closeness of the group. You got the same leaders that are here and that's huge. You're not changing a lot of those players out. It's the same guys we worked with last year, they've matured one year, they know everything about us and that's where it comes from."